With temperatures plummeting below freezing in many parts of the UK this week due to the Arctic blast, the RSPCA is urging people to follow its pressing advice and top tips to keep pets, livestock and wildlife safe and warm.
With night-time temperatures dropping as low as -10C with yellow warnings for snow and ice issued across the country, the animal welfare charity is calling for people to do their bit to help animals as the freezing weather could be detrimental to their health.
RSPCA inspectorate commissioner Dermot Murphy said: “It’s really important we help our animal friends get through the chilly weather, and we’ve got lots of helpful advice and tips available for people to make sure their own pets, and local wildlife, are kept safe.
“Wild animals will be struggling in this icy weather, facing challenges such as dehydration, hunger and cold. But a few little changes to your everyday routine can really make a difference to animals. For example, a little bit of extra food left out for a hungry bird may be the help it needs to last through a spate of frosty weather.”
RSPCA’s top tips to keep your pet safe in the cold weather
Keep a close eye on outdoor pets like rabbits and guinea pigs
If the temperature starts to drop below freezing, you may wish to move your bunny inside. Guinea pigs are to be housed indoors when temperatures are below 15C. When indoors, they still need plenty of time and room to exercise safely.
If you have to leave them outside, provide them with lots of extra bedding and make sure their home is protected from adverse weather with insulating but ventilating covers. Hutches should be in a sheltered position, with a sloped roof and should be raised off the ground at least 4ins.
Cats must have constant access to the house or to a warm, indoor area.
You should also ensure the cat’s bedding or sleeping area is warm, dry and away from any draughts. Cats will need to be able to feel free to get back into the house or a warm area such as an outbuilding or barn. “You should also ensure the cat’s bedding or sleeping area is warm, dry and away from any draughts.”
Keep antifreeze and rock salt away from pets
These products are commonly used this time of year to get rid of frost on cars or roads and they can be poisonous to pets. These products must be kept out of reach and if you are concerned your pet may have ingested anything they shouldn’t have, owners should speak to their vet immediately.
Dry pets with a towel if wet or cold
If you have a pet who gets wet or cold, rub them dry with a towel and make sure they have plenty of warm bedding.
Elderly or sick dogs
If you have a dog who is in their old age or sick, you can buy a special coat or jumper to keep them warm when you are taking them for a walk. Make sure your dog can still behave normally, for example, go to the toilet easily and that it is a good and comfortable fit.
When walking your dog or riding your horse in the dark, always remember to wear reflective clothing and think about reflective protection for your pet too.
Frozen ponds, lakes or rivers
When out for a walk, keep your dog away from frozen water which can pose a danger, and make sure their paws don’t get impacted with snow.
Aviaries, coops or runs for birds
If you keep your pet birds in outdoor coops or aviaries, you must protect them from the cold weather by providing them with plenty of additional dry, warm bedding such as straw and cover enclosures and to make sure the wind and rain doesn’t get in.
Birds will eat more to keep warm in cold conditions so make sure they always have access to plenty of food and fresh water, ensuring water does not freeze.
Never keep animals in greenhouses or conservatories
You should never house animals, including birds, in greenhouses and take caution if housing them in conservatories.
Check fish pond every day
If you have a pond of fish, you must observe it daily to make sure the surface is not entirely frozen as poisonous gases can build up under the ice. Make sure you don’t break the ice as this can injure the fish, but carefully place a saucepan of hot water on the surface to gently melt a hole in the ice.
Never tip boiling water straight onto the pond either as this may also harm or kill any fish living there. Also don’t try to use antifreeze or salt to thaw frozen ponds or birdbaths.
Take care of horses and livestock
Horses and livestock will also need to be taken care of in the winter, such as substantial shelter to escape bad weather, extra feed as grass can be sparse, and regular checks on water troughs to keep them clear of ice.
Make sure they have added protection with a waterproof rug, ensure they have access to dry standing areas and check hooves regularly to make sure they don’t have any loose shoes or signs of problems such as mud fever.
Protect the wildlife
Wildlife will need extra help during tough, adverse weather conditions; birds can struggle to find food during the winter months, so make sure they stay strong over this period, householders can leave out extra food for them.
For example suitable seeds and grains like oats and sunflower seeds, cooked pasta or rice, boiled potatoes, cheese or uncooked unsalted bacon rind, raisins and sultanas, net-free fat or suet balls, apples, pears and soft fruits, insects such as meal worms or wax worms.
Bird bath protection
Keep bird baths free of ice, leave out bowls of clean water and keep feeders clean.
Safeguard wild animals
Make sure you carefully check any wood or leaf piles for wild animals such as hedgehogs, frogs and mice before lighting any fires or bonfires. If you find wild animals in hibernation, leave them to it.
Keep dogs inside
The RSPCA advises against keeping dogs outside in any weather. It said: “We recommend bringing dogs indoors and if not possible ensuring their dog has permanent access to a clean, comfortable and dry sleeping area with a safe heat source so the temperature does not drop below 10C.”